The Last Weekend - An Approach to the Final Weeks of Pregnancy

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Here we are - the final weeks of pregnancy.
The postpartum kit is made, labor stuff gathered, prayer intentions getting compiled. The preparations for a birth are a good distraction from the waiting game for a good while, but they end eventually.

So what is there left to do? We make these last weeks, when we could be sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting for contractions to hit, into an adventure. I call it "The Last Weekend".

Getting to see the T. Rex. in the Life Sciences building at UC Berkeley the day before Therese was born.

The basic premise is approaching each weekend we have before baby is born as potentially the last weekend. The physical fact is I'm not getting any more comfortable just sitting around at home. Last Weekend means I have to get up and get moving.

At Fort Snelling labeling herself a malingerer in the guard house.
Her other options were thief or deserter. I'd go with malingerer too. 
Last Weekend gives us opportunity as a family to have those bigger adventures we might not be able to do for a few months with a newborn. John now associates the last weeks before a baby sibling is born as "adventure time with Mom and Dad". 

I want them to think of having a new sibling as a positive thing. My attention is very divided in the early weeks with a new baby, so this opportunity to embrace my kids as they are right now is a gift that is not going to come around again.

Minnesota State Fair. Corn dogs and fried oreos were had, and both had their first time on a ferris wheel.
The Last Weekend adventures do not need to be expensive. You might have noticed by now that I call anything out of our usual routine an "adventure". 
That means walking down the street to the pond is an adventure.
Trying out a new park is an adventure.
Having a picnic and camp out in the backyard is an adventure.

It's all about perspective.

Do you do anything special with older siblings before a new baby is born?

Spiritual Preparation for Labor and Childbirth

Monday, August 28, 2017

Somewhere in the last six weeks of pregnancy I hit a wall.

 An "I'm-so-done-with-feeling-huge-and-I-just-want-someone-else-to-hold-the-baby-for-a-minute" wall.

When that wall comes up, I need to shift my focus from my physical discomforts and pay attention to my spiritual preparation for labor and birth. These are just some of the things I have tried in the past, I would love to hear about other practices you use to spiritually prepare for labor!

Mother Blessing

It is very popular to have parties/gatherings to celebrate a new baby, even outside of the traditional baby shower. Past my first kid there really was not much I needed in terms of baby supplies. But I did need prayers and emotional support!

We had a mother blessing with our second child. The Book of Blessings has various forms of this depending on if it is led by a priest, deacon, or lay person - for a group, single couple, or just one mother. One of my good friends led the blessing, we made prayer cards for the baby, pregnancy, and birth, and lit prayer intention candles for each card. (I planned to use the candles during the birth, as a sort of relighting of the prayer, but labor had other ideas.)

I am hoping to make the group mother blessing our parish's Pro-life Committee sponsors, but that might depend on when baby decides to be born!

Prayer Cards from near and far

I found the prayer cards to be a wonderful way to connect with female friends and family who live far away! We decorated our cards at the blessing, and my mom, sisters, and far away friends mailed me their cards. I hung them up where I was likely to spend a good amount of my labor, and I kept them up through baby's first year.

She still has a stack of beautiful prayers in her baby box she will be able to look back on when she's older. I love the idea of a physical reminder for that baby to be able to see how many people were welcoming her, even if they lived far way.

Offering up Labor 

I have had very predictable twelve hour labors so far. That leaves a lot of time for prayer!
Bringing prayer intentions into labor helps me keep my mind off the pain. It is my greatest chunk of time to use as non-stop prayer, and, let's me honest, there's a lot of "offer it up" material!

In my last weeks of pregnancy I collect prayer intentions into one condensed list. I'm hoping to make this baby's list a little nicer looking than my previous loose-leaf binder paper lists.
(Bullet journal people - y'all seem good at making lists pretty. Ideas?)

36 Weeks! #MySundayBest with A Blog For My Mom
If you have a prayer intention for me, leave a comment or send me a message or email! (underthyroof at gmail dot com) I'm due September 23rd, but baby could come anytime starting Saturday so send them as soon as you can so I don't run out of time!

Do you do any spiritual preparation for labor and birth?

Spiritual Hacks for Life with Kids

Friday, August 25, 2017

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes.

We're on the edge of Fall! Some people do New Year's Resolutions, but for me Fall has always been the time for new beginnings. This is when I look back and see what has been working, what needs to be readjusted, and maybe where some priorities are getting forgotten.

Priorities like....having a prayer life?

With tiny people underfoot most of the day, it can be reeeeaaaallllyyy hard to give prayer the pride of place it deserves in my day. But it's a new season and a new chance to try something new and see if it sticks. Here are some of the ways I'm getting in spiritual time while having kids around 24/7.


Take advantage of the kid friendly prayer options

Our parish has a children's holy hour every Wednesday morning in the adoration chapel. Getting a chance to go to adoration and not worry too much about disturbing others is such a blessing!

Growing up, my mom would take all of us kids to her weekly rosary group. It was a group of moms and kids who gathered in one side of the church every Friday to say the rosary together. Not a lot of planning needed, and nobody minded if a baby needed to be soothed or a toddler never stopped organizing the hymnals.

If there is not an offering at your parish, or one nearby, start your own! It doesn't take a lot to invite a family or two over for rosary time. Don't worry about making it perfect or having a spic and span house. Your effort counts!


Make it a routine

When I look at what consistently happens in my prayer life, even in the busy times, it's the things that I do as a matter of routine. We always make it to mass on Sunday's because that's just what we do on Sunday mornings. Blessings before meals are part of the ritual of mealtimes in our house.

One thing we have started with the new school year is having rosary time. About 3pm has worked well. It's post-nap and afternoon snack and the kids have had a little free time. I light a candle on the mantle, hand out rosaries, and roll with it. It's not always easy, but getting started is most of the battle for me.


 Embrace the wiggles

A rosary takes about 20 minutes and you can bet there are wiggles! Lots and lots of wiggles. 
So we have embraced the wiggles.

One technique that works well with my kids is having "walking mysteries". Every other mystery we pace the length of the room with each Hail Mary. Now we have lots of ground rules to keep this from devolving into racing and running into things:

1. If you get to the end of the room early, you still have to wait for the next Hail Mary to start for the other side.
2. No touching anyone
3. Rosaries need to be held nicely (not hitting objects or people.)

Breaking the rules gets a quick warning. If the rules are broken 3 times, we sit down for the rest of that mystery. It did not take the kids long to figure out life is a lot more fun if you follow the ground rules.


Invest in some good children's religious books

I'm talking books with good art, lots of pictures, and are well written. Check out Mater Amabilis or Mother of Divine Grace to see some recommendations for liturgical year or saint books that are age appropriate for your kids.

They are fantastic to bring to mass, adoration, to have on hand for feast days, or just to read aloud and get your kids more familiar with bible stories, saints, and the meaning behind Catholic traditions.


Lower your expectations

I say lower because I seem to fall into the trap of expecting higher level behavior than what is reasonable when it comes to prayer time. 
Define what counts as "good behavior". Is it sitting in one spot? Staying in the pew? Making an effort at whispering in church? Kids cannot meet expectations if they are not clearly defined and communicated.
For rosary time I ask that everyone pick their spot at the beginning of each mystery, and no rosaries in months or on feet.
For mass I ask that everyone stay in the pew, my 3ish and ups follow along with the stand, sit, kneel times, and all questions be whispered. 
In Therese's case, keeping her non-stop commentary and free association whispered is her doing well. For John I have a rule about not putting himself to sleep during mass on purpose. 
Different kids have different struggles.


Explain as you go

It's very hard for kids to behave well if they do not understand what is happening. I do a quick little explanation of each mystery as we say the rosary, point out what part of the mass we are doing right now, and teach them the words for liturgical objects.


Do it anyway

We have had masses in which I completely missed the homily because I was taking the toddler to the potty for what felt like the billionth time. Rosaries that got interrupted so many times I wanted to quit. 
But I make myself do prayer anyway.
Sometimes showing up is the prayer. Even if I'm just showing up to the rosary in my living room. I don't let a bad experience the day before prevent me from trying again today. The kids will not get better at prayer without practice, and everyone needs another chance to get it together. - including me.

What are some of your tips and tricks for praying with kids around?

Postpartum Lessons + What's in My Postpartum Kit

Friday, August 18, 2017

The greatest lesson I learned from giving birth to my first baby was that birth is not the hard part. Birth is a finite thing - that baby is coming out one way or another. What really got me long term, physically and mentally, was postpartum.

Postpartum was a drop kick into deep water that first time around. I went from having regular appointments with my midwife, to the office not even having my file available when I called them about potential PPD within the first six weeks. "Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative" meant that I came home from the hospital incredibly sleep deprived. I had no idea what I needed much less how to get my needs met.

The prep classes from the hospital were about the process and tools for getting through labor, with a nod to postpartum at the end. In fact almost all of the pregnancy books given to me/that I found at the library focused on getting through labor as smoothly as possible, but completely missed the gravity of postpartum care needs.

Once I was postpartum, and in desperate need of help and care, it seemed like the general response of both the medical system and my community was to stop their ears and shut their eyes. The recent study regarding maternal mortality rates was oddly comforting. It's not just in my head, postpartum nurses are ill informed about postpartum dangers and consequently do not respond adequately. The difficulties I went through with my first postpartum experience are not normal and should not have been ignored, but they were.

Hopefully I am now a better advocate for myself in the postpartum period, but frankly that is not something we should be demanding of postpartum mothers! It should not be the job of the suffering, bleeding, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed to get those in authority to do their jobs properly. Period.

I do things drastically differently now.

I am very upfront with my providers regarding my concerns about postpartum, and I don't let non-committal answers slide.

My husband takes at least two weeks off from work if at all possible.

We plan out meals and resources. The time to search for a babysitter, mental health provider, lactation consultant, etc. is NOT during your postpartum. Trust me, get those names and numbers written down and available now.

I educated myself about what true normal is and what it is not.

I learned about myself. The truth is there is a wide gulf of grey between "immediate medical emergency" and "still not ok". It's in that grey space that far too many women spend their postpartum. But it does not have to be so! With my last two babies I have learned the things that get me out of the grey into the light zone of "doing ok".

Nothing here is a magic bullet, but everything in here has been a help to me. Maybe it will help someone else!

Here are the top seven things I keep in my postpartum basket.


The scents that I associate with being calm and supported can make me relax and slow down so quickly! These are the same scents I use in labor, and frequently when having a recovery day during intense dance or theater times.
I have this pod diffuser, but generally prefer to do a drop or two on a cotton ball for the smell. That way if it's not working for me that day, I can just put the cotton ball back in the baggie and it's gone.

Spiritual Support

I completely forgot about the importance of spiritual support in my first postpartum. Prayer and connection to the wider Church is a great way for me to combat the feelings of isolation in those first few weeks. This small crucifix and bottle of holy water live on the dresser next to my bed during postpartum. There will also be a rosary, but it's currently living in the labor kit.


I have a taste in tea that will make real tea lovers cringe. My other favorite is Orange Spice...cringing yet?
But this is what my coffee-lover heart likes when I want something hot to drink but should really be cutting down on the caffeine for a bit. Whatever says homey comfort to you, put it in the postpartum kit!

Cloth Breast Pads

Breastfeeding will likely not be long lived again, but I like to have these cloth breast pads in the postpartum kit just in case. I find the cloth pads much more comfortable than the disposable version. When everything else in your body is a little achy, I believe in upping the comfort level where ever possible!

Belly Wraps

It was a shock to me to try and sit up in bed after my first was born. I couldn't do it! Those poor abdominal muscles have just been through a multi-month stretch and they are plum tuckered out.
Starting about day two or so I like to start gently wrapping my belly. I use a super long wide cotton muslin for wrapping at home, and a Velcro one from Target when out and about.
It makes a big difference for retraining all of my muscles what straight feels like when I've gotten sway backed and off during the final weeks of pregnancy.

Cloth Pads

I'll be honest, I thought it would be a lot grosser to use cloth pads than it is in reality. They are fantastically more comfortable than wearing the giant disposable ones for weeks. The less I can feel like a small child in a diaper the better.


Both of these herbal tinctures are now requirements for my postpartum kit!
After pains were not explained well at all before I had my first, and holy cow they don't get any better with later babies! Taking the AfterEase with ibuprofen did wonders for being able to take the edge off the pain in those early days. I find the ibuprofen works longer, but the AfterEase works faster. Faster is important!
I have learned that the most dangerous time of day for postpartum me is evening and night. ReBalance taken with my placenta pills before bed helps calm the hormonal swings of night wakings and sporadic sleep. (Sleep is still extremely important though people! Do not skimp on the sleep!)

Not in the kit but prepared and ready in the house:

Freezer meals that can mostly be thawed and dumped in the crockpot.

Cookie dough is an accidental addition to our postpartum traditions, but having some fresh baked cookies in those early days has turned into a sweet way to welcome a new member of the family.

Maternity Tea is something I drink all through pregnancy and through my postpartum. I mix up my own infusion herbs from bulk. My recipe is very similar to this one.

Sitz Herbs for healing. I've never torn (knock on all the wood) but sitz bath herbs are still soothing during the recovery period.


For a little background about why I care so much about postpartum care:


What are some of your postpartum must haves? What have you found to be a helpful addition to your postpartum?

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes!

I Seem To Be Obligated to Write This

Monday, August 14, 2017

Here we are again.

I am frustrated that it took deaths for us to draw a line. Again.
I am frustrated, yet again, with trying understand what is expected of me in the face of more evil.
I am frustrated that the best I have heard to do is essentially armchair activism.

In fact, armchair activism seems to be the height of social activism when it comes to addressing terrorism and other human evils in our society. If you have not updated your Facebook status within 24 hours of a terrible, heinous, event then "your silence is your complicity". Hashtag Charlottesville.

This is a small blog. I live a small life. A full life, but a small life. I do not write about each and every thought or struggle I have on this blog. My life is not solely lived online, not should it be.
Do not expect to read someone's blog, or Facebook wall, and expect to see an accurate representation of each and every thing they might be fighting.

I did not write about all the other white supremacy protests, counterprotests, and Antifa tactics we dealt with blocks from our home in Berkeley. (BTW, they were going on well before this weekend.)

I did not write about having to explain to my kids it was not safe to go to the downtown library because grown adults were rioting in the streets. Again.

I did not write about how many times I comforted my little kids during the first few riots when they were woken up, by the still circling helicopters at midnight, terrified that "the mad people were going to get them".

I did not write about how hard it is to teach little kids about the inherent goodness in people when most of the time adults seem to just scream at and past each other.

While I am glad people are finally noticing that we have a serious human crisis going on in this country, I am not ok with getting accused of being complicit in evil because I am not reacting identically to my friends on Facebook.

I am not being silent - I am busy speaking so tiny people can hear.
I am busy interpreting a world for them that, frankly, should not STILL be having the same issues in 2017.
I am busy refusing to break into tinier and tinier ideological factions.
I am busy keeping my humanity alive.

My reaction might be different from yours. That does not make it wrong, and it definitely does not make me complicit in evil. I am going to keep doing the best I can, even if it's not good enough for strangers on the internet.

The 2017-2018 Homeschool Plan

Monday, August 7, 2017

John (Kindergarten)

John is starting for real school this year! He will be using Mother of Divine Grace. We did enroll this year and I've been very impressed with how quickly our consultant responds to questions. It's very comforting to have someone experienced in our curriculum on call!

This year is a lot of reading good books, practicing phonics, math, exploring, and learning to see the beautiful with formal studies of art and music.

Therese (Preschool Year 1)

We do two years of preschool, so Therese is on year 1 of our normal preschool process. This year we use 26 Letters to Heaven as a loose guide to our year. Therese is more into arts and crafts than John, and I think she will very much enjoy the more crafty side of the curriculum. 

In theory she is spending this year gaining familiarity with letters, exploring her world, and getting introduced to numbers and simple math. The reality is that she is a second child who has been listening in on big brother's lessons for a few years now. Most of this will just be reinforcing what she has already heard introduced. I'm a big believer in going slow in these early years so I am not planning to fast track her at all.

She's very excited to officially join in our school time this year!


Preschool Busy Boxes

These are boxes for Therese to choose from when I need to do one on one work with John. They are designed to work on fine motor skills and hand strength and to be self-directed. I posted about these busy boxes in my 7 Quick Takes last Friday and a number of people requested to know what was in the boxes, so here it is!
Box 1: Playdough and plastic cutting tools

Box 2: Lacing cards, pony beads, and shoelaces

Box 3: Clothes pins, pom pom balls, and a silverware organizer. This one will get rotated around with different sorting containers we find around the house.

Box 4: Wikki Stix, various size craft sticks, pipe cleaners. This one is to go to town creating. I'm planning to stick some basic coloring pages in here for Therese to "color" the picture using the objects in the box. It will also get additional supplies throughout the year. 


John will be joining the boys program at the Minnesota Dance Theater this September! He is very excited to be big enough for the "big boys ballet".

He's grown so much in just a year!
Therese is still too young for pre-ballet (life is hard with a late summer birthday) but she will likely start a more formal exercise activity this year too.

Homeschool group

Our parish has a fabulous homeschool group that we are joining this year. They offer various activities, field trips, and enrichment throughout the year. Specifically what is offered depends on volunteer power and interest so we'll see what is on the docket this year at the kick off picnic!

Little Lambs

We are continuing to use the Little Lambs Family Formation curriculum. This is the only year both kids overlap in Little Lambs, and I thought it would be nice to have a part of school be something they can do together.

Typical (planned) schedule

We only have a Kindergartner and Preschooler this year. Formal "school time" only takes 45 minutes to an hour. Tops. That leaves a lot of the day for exploring and adventures. But if I do not plan them they will not happen (fact).

Note: I say all this about to give birth around a month or two into this adventure so we'll see how this gets adapted!

Monday: Library Day! 
Every Sunday I request all the books will will need for the following week then I pick up whatever has managed to make it to the hold shelf on Monday. Our local library branch has great kid play areas and cool extras like hatching butterflies and ladybugs on the librarian's desk.

Tuesday: Flex Day

Both Tuesday and Thursday are flex days.
These are days when we can choose between options like going to the Nature Center or YMCA, do experiments on topics the kids are interested in, and have longer free play at home. Family DIY projects and extra liturgical year prep are options on these days too. The ideal is to stay a little closer to home and not have something we need to rush out the door for every day. These are all activities that can be done without specific time frames and at our own pace.

Wednesday: Children's Holy Hour and Ballet
Our parish has a beautiful children's holy hour every Wednesday morning. There are lots of prayers, songs, quiet prayer time, saint stories, bible stories, etc. You haven't lived until you've heard 15 kids lisping a decade of the rosary! Everyone gets some time with Jesus and if they keep it (mostly) together they get to join the daily mass crowd for donuts.

John has his Ballet class on Wednesday evenings so I am going to have to experiment and see what works best with Therese for that hour. And then figure out Therese + newborn for the hour.

Thursday: Flex Day

Another flex day so same options as Tuesday. One of these days often becomes "catch up on cleaning" day. Little kids really enjoy that day if I give them jobs they can accomplish. They are currently most helpful at: unloading the dryer into the laundry hamper, sweeping with hand brooms and dust pans from the dollar store, and cleaning up anything that can be put into a box or bin.

Friday: Adventure Day!

We only have formal school work Monday through Thursday, so Friday is completely free for getting a head start on adventures! It's a good day to make use of our historical society membership, check out museums, explore new places, or make fancy lunch.

Here we go!

Life is Moving Fast!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes!

It's been a while since we had a life update on the blog. Here's what's been going on!


We're at 33 weeks tomorrow! 
This pregnancy has gone very quickly. I suppose that's what happens when there is a move halfway across the country and massive summer travels.


This week I have been finishing up gathering the materials for our birth kit and making up my own postpartum and labor support kits.
I like kits. They're helpful.

I'll have posts about what I put in those kits soon!


One thing I'm doing differently with birth is setting up a "reward meal" for after the baby is born. I have zero ideas about what the food should be, but I know I would like to try a good local stout. Moving to a new place that does really good beer while unable to partake has been sad.
The reward meal is even on the birth supply list from my midwife so I'm deciding this is legit.


We start school next week!
With the baby expected in September, I figured it would be better to get the school ball rolling so we don't get too far behind in the new baby flurry.

John is starting Kindergarten (real school!) this year with Mother of Divine Grace, and Therese will be starting her first Preschool year using 26 Letters to Heaven.
More on this year's homeschool plan next week!


If this works it may be one of my more brilliant ideas - preschooler busy kits!

I found these large clear boxes they sell to store scrapbook paper on Amazon and made each one a different theme. We only do school four days a week so there are four boxes. Each one has a different theme. When I am working one on one with John, Therese can choose one of the boxes each day. They're big enough that I'm hoping the box itself will help contain some of the messy (looking at you pony beads and play dough.)

My other brilliant idea, supply boxes for school time only (because I have LEARNED). The kids picked their colors for the year: John is orange and Therese is pink (no surprise there). The individual blue separators come out of the kits so I put their color sticker on the bottom of each piece too.


John did a wetland nature camp most of this last week of summer break. The nature center is less than a mile away from us, which is SO NICE!

About an hour in to John being gone at camp Therese gets forlorn and starts asking when we can pick up John about every 20 minutes.
Then he runs out and they reunite like this and my momma heart melts!

Also, this kid got glasses this week! It's cool because he thinks it makes him look more like Daddy. Whatever works buddy.


In Ballet world update, I think we have picked a ballet school for John and studio for me! This will be his first year old enough to be in the boys program and he's very excited.

I'm using our local Y more to get cardio in on the elliptical and use their barre space. I'm still doing a lot of Pilates and stretching at home, but I'm at the point in pregnancy where I have to be careful how I move so I don't set off the evil chain of cramping. I've found using the elliptical as a warm up is very helpful in that respect!

Our local Y has a fabulous kid space and it's amazingly easier to hold counts in my head without the 2 year old in my face going "WHAT YOU DOING MOMMY?!"

Building a Healthy Body Positivity

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Honest truth, I was the chubby kid in ballet class.

No one called me that, but like most kids I was observant enough to notice.

I was too tall to be in the front of the class, and muscular enough that I often partnered in the guy's role. Dance school uniforms meant that I could not hide the fact that my leotard and skirt looked very different on me than on my classmates.

Going through puberty in front of a mirror was a struggle. I could not ignore what was staring me in the face many days of the week.

The dance world had woken up to the idea that the need to conform to one ideal of a "ballerina body" was driving out talented dancers. There was less pressure to eat a certain way or look a certain way. However, there was a cone of silence around navigating normally fluctuating weight - especially during the puberty years. After years of getting it wrong, everyone was trying so hard to do right, they did nothing.

So I plodded along, unsure of my strengths, and clueless for how to address the weaknesses in my dancing and in my body. I started to think maybe the problem was ballet. Maybe I just did not have the body for ballet and I should find a dance style that would be a better fit.

I did ballet-modern and learned a number of other styles, in addition to the tap and jazz my dance school offered.
I went vegetarian for a few years to see if that would help.
I generally flailed around trying to figure out where I fit. Kind of how puberty goes down for a lot of people.

Now, as an adult, I aim for a healthy body positivity. This means largely accepting the realities of my body while working towards strengthening my weak points.

Ballet will not let you be in denial about the realities of your body, it's true. I think that's a good thing.

Even the most perfect ballerina does not have a "perfect body". We all have unique quirks and struggles.

I have hyperextension all over the place. Which is a genetic gift when I need to make a pretty picture pose, but it makes it physically impossible to close my legs in fifth position. I need to use fifth position a lot.

I have very flexible feet. It's great for pointe work, but it also makes me just as able to sickle my foot (bad) as much as I can wing my foot (good).

I am not a tiny person. I build muscle fast, and I will never have the ballerina look. It is a fact of my physiology.

Accepting my bodily reality is not saying I cannot improve or that I cannot dance. It merely means I am accepting the truth of my body and am choosing to work with that reality. Choosing to work with an impossible ideal in mind is not only an unhealthy choice, it would make me a bad dancer.

What I wished had happened during puberty was someone taking the chubby dancer in the back under their wing. She needed someone to walk with her to learn how to see how these strengths and weaknesses were interconnected.

Your mainstream "body positivity" does not work well for kids who are growing up in front of a mirror. It reeks of hypocrisy. Telling a kid just to love the body they have and to not try to change it is in direct conflict with the message that if they work hard they can achieve their dreams.
Kids are smart. They notice these things.

A healthy body positivity discerns the difference between working with the body you have and being resigned to your body. Working with your bodily reality is empowering. It acknowledges that I have agency over my body. Being resigned to my body would mean letting the body control me. It would be disordered and fundamentally unhealthy.

What are your thoughts on building a healthy body positivity? Has this been a struggle in your life?

Are We Ready to Stop Hating on Ballet Yet?

Monday, July 31, 2017

There is something that is really bugging me on the internet. It has become popular to hate on dance, and ballet in particular, with the argument that ballet is not safe for our children to participate in from a body image and sexualizition standpoint.

I have been in ballet starting from the age of 4, mostly took a break in college, and came back after my second child was born. I have enrolled my son in ballet this past year and he will continue into a boys program this year. I have seen a lot of dance schools, styles, teachers, and dancers. Professionals, the professional aspiring, students, and just-dancing-for-fun people.

I cringe when I hear that parents are avoiding letting their children participate in dance because they "want them to have a healthy body image." Especially when the follow up is "do sports instead!" Y'all, sports are not an immunization against negative body image. It may even be worse if parents assume that sports are safe thus they don't need to be looking out for negative body image or a distorted relationship with food or exercise.

Sexism, sexual exploitation, and "competitive thinness" are all very real issues in sports, and even more so for female athletes. Parents assuming soccer or volleyball will be immune to such issues only makes it a better primed environment for exploitation.

I have known a lot of very serious athletes. They also train extremely hard, struggle with the physical and mental demands of their sport, and see the good and the bad in their sport.

The common denominator between the bad experiences is that they happen when parents, and athletes/dancers, sign onto a team, a dance school, a program without doing their own legwork to see if it would be a good fit.

Please do not assume something that was a good fit for your friend will be a good fit for you. Instructors change, coaches change, teammates change. If parents do not take the time to check into the particular class/team their child will be enrolled in, then reality can be wildly different from your expectations.

It is being a smart consumer to check it out before you sign up, but also to check in with the class instructor/coach and your kid as the year progresses. Attend any observation days. Know what goes on in a typical class/practice.
I am not saying be a helicopter parent. Anyone who has ever taught a class with little kids can tell you there is a balance between being involved and being overbearing. I am saying to pay attention.

If your kid wants to take a ballet class and you have never been to the ballet or taken a class yourself, please try and educate yourself about the dance world. If you do not understand what is and is not normal for a class at your child's level, it will be very hard to express your concerns or combat negative situations.

Ultimately parents have to make the right call for their own child, but enough with letting a bad experience taint your perspective of an entire art form.

On Wednesday I'll have a post on healthy body positivity, my perspective as a adult in ballet without a stereotypical "ballerina body", and navigating puberty in front of a mirror.
Come continue the discussion!

Wonderfully Made - Alejandra's Story

Friday, July 28, 2017

It's NFP Awareness Week! This year I am sharing stories from women who learned NFP methods while single. Single women often get left out of discussions of Natural Family Planning, but there are great benefits to be reaped for them too. It's time to hear some of their stories!

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Alejandra, and I’m originally from southern California, but am now living in Oakland in the Bay Area. I just recently became a licensed Architect – hooray! Believe it or not, you can’t just call yourself an Architect right out of university, and I had to pass seven national exams and one state exam over two years to earn that professional title, so I’m pretty proud! I’m currently working at a high-end residential firm in Emeryville that does beautiful work in this area. 

I speak three languages – Spanish, English, and Italian – because my mom is from Chile and I studied abroad in Italy. I’m forever grateful to my mom for making sure we were bilingual from the start – languages are one of my passions! In my spare time, I love to cook and bake, work in my garden, spend time at the beach, hike in the Oakland redwoods (or anywhere for that matter – we are blessed with so many natural gems here in the Bay Area!), read, draw and paint, hang out with friends, and most of all, horseback ride. I’ve recently become an equestrian and I take English riding lessons here in the Oakland redwoods. There is nothing more wonderful than being out there with the horses… Unless it’s snuggling with my two adorable goddaughters of course!

2. How did you hear about NFP?

I’m I guess what you might call a “cradle Catholic,” in that I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school all my life, so I do vaguely remember learning about NFP, at least as a concept, during middle school and high school. I was aware it was out there, but didn’t know the details, especially because I always assumed it was just for families or married couples, so I wrote it off in my mind as not applicable toward my current state of life.

Later, when I was already living and working here in the Bay Area, a dear friend of mine introduced me to JPII’s Theology of the Body. The more I read up on it, and the more I started reading the incredibly beautiful ways that JPII talked about man and woman, the “feminine genius,” and his reflections on the body in terms of the ordering of love and our existence in connection with God and Love, the more I started seeing the connections between Theology of the Body and NFP.

Around the same time, another very dear friend of mine was starting her own family and pregnant with her second daughter, and she began explaining to me the details about taking her temperature, charting, and how it all helped her and her husband either conceive or avoid pregnancy in a natural and faith-filled way. She suggested an app that helps record this information and generates a visual chart, and so I was encouraged to begin charting myself!

3. How did you pick a method?                         

At first, I didn’t really know what I was doing other than waking up at 7:00am to faithfully record my temperature on this app each morning – however, the app also has a handy “Knowledge Base” section that answers all the basic questions about charting your cycle and what it means. Through this, I was able to gain some basic knowledge about basal body temperature, temperature shifts, the luteal and follicular phases, hormones, etc. 

I was fascinated! However, it wasn’t until a priest friend of mine personally called me up one day, and said that there was a woman offering Creighton Model classes at his parish, that I started getting serious about a particular method. He was trying to specifically enlist as many young, single women as he knew to take the classes with her, because he believed in its importance before young women get married (or even if they never do!), even as having a basic, positive health benefit. What a blessing that call was (and what a wonderful priest!), because I enlisted for the classes, which were private, one-on-one classes that helped teach the basic concepts of the Creighton Method and also helped me chart through several cycles until I got the hang of it. The Creighton Model does not utilize temperature, but rather a very detailed charting of daily mucus, in order to understand a woman’s fertility, cycle, and general health. It’s truly amazing how intricate, integrated, and synchronized our bodies are, and how much they tell us! We only have to learn and listen.

4. What has been your greatest challenge?

They say that with knowledge comes great responsibility, right? I would say my greatest challenge has been finding out that there are perhaps some “irregular” or “not ideal” things about my cycle. Ever since I began my period as a teenager, I have always had very heavy bleeding and most times very painful cramping. In high school, I dealt with this by taking evening primrose oil, a natural oil that is known to help regulate your cycle and alleviate or even eliminate painful cramping. It did for some years, but it has found its way back. Ever since I have begun charting, I’ve noticed certain things like the appearance of mucus when a woman typically wouldn’t have any, and other “red flags.” Charting prompted me to go see a Catholic OB-GYN in the area who reads charts, and after having to get some blood tests done (ick), she has been able to see some of these irregularities as well as low levels of hormones, among other things. And what’s amazing is that just by reading my charts and checking out my blood tests, she discovered several other things that were “low” in my body. 

Now, I’m the type of person that magnifies every worst possible situation (I’m permanently infertile! I have some crazy disease! I’ll never be able to have babies!), so while it was quite a challenge, and even sometimes terrifying, to “find out” about these issues and hear potentially “bad news” – at the same time, I have to say that it has been also a positive thing, because not only do I now know about these issues, but I can also work on fixing them by natural means, like vitamin supplements or honing my diet to my body’s needs. And ladies, we’re not just talking about focusing on my fertility – there are now some general health items that have been uncovered that I can improve in my body, so that it is working to its fullest potential all-around! And I wouldn’t have known about them had I not started charting, and I am thankful to be working on these issues before I meet someone. It’s like getting a head start - How cool is that?!

5. What has been your favorite benefit?

Apart from getting to know my body better, and turning my energy toward improving it so that it is healthy and works to its greatest potential, I’d say some of the greatest benefits have been empowerment, humility, and gratitude. I understand my body and how it works in a way that I had never known before, and this has given me an incredible appreciation for God’s genius in creation. 

How beautiful, how intricate, how perfectly engineered and wonderfully made is the female body… the human body! As a single woman, this appreciation and healthy love for my body I think contributes to my understanding of who I am, who God created me to be, and how he wants me to use my gifts. It’s part of that grand search for meaning, and it most certainly reflects the great Love our Lord has for each one of us. 

Check out the previous posts in this series:

Know Thyself - Kate's Story

Thursday, July 27, 2017

It's NFP Awareness Week! This year I am sharing stories from women who learned NFP methods while single. Single women often get left out of discussions of Natural Family Planning, but there are great benefits to be reaped for them too. It's time to hear some of their stories!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m Kate, 41 years old, never married, cradle Catholic.  I have been a school librarian for about nine years since changing careers from the legal field.  I live just outside of Philadelphia in the suburbs, not far from where I grew up.  My parents have been married for over 46 years and I have an older brother and a younger sister, both of whom are married—so I am a happy auntie to five wonderful nephews (oldest is 19/youngest is 4 months) and one fantastic niece (almost 13!).

How did you hear about NFP?

I feel like I kind of had the basics as a high schooler. . . My 9th grade religion teacher alluded to it (“Some days the toilet paper goes whoop!”) and my mom (oldest of seven children) shared one of the straightforward pieces of wisdom her mother was famous for: “Sex equals babies.” (Meaning don’t do it if you’re not ready to be a parent.)

My college dorm mates talked about how their parents were involved with the Couple-to-Couple League (CCL) and that was very interesting to me, to see how others taught and supported each other with marriage and families.  In my 20s, I helped a struggling couple connect with CCL as a result of my college friends’ information.

Then, a few years ago, I joined up with the Not Alone Singles group, full of such lovely women with incredible devotion to their faith.  I looked around at a few blogs and saw that Jen at Jumping in Puddles wrote a post about why she charts and that got me curious.

How did you pick a method?

 In 2015, I was in a relationship that really seemed to be headed toward marriage.  We both shared in that longing to have children, and I didn’t want to be blindsided with having to take a crash course right before getting married.  (Turns out I didn’t have to be that worried, as that relationship ended unexpectedly late last year, but I am still grateful for what else has come into my life as a result.)  I connected with the Friends of Fertility Care of Philadelphia and was referred to an information session.  Turns out I was the only single person attending, but the session was fascinating and full of things that went beyond what I really understood about human biology.  The session also talked about NaPro Technology and what I now know is the Creighton Model of charting fertility.  I signed up for individual instruction and it really didn’t take long to get the hang of observing and charting thanks to my very caring educator.

What has been your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge is probably to hold my tongue and control my annoyance when people talk so casually about IVF and chemical and artificial means of birth control as if it does nothing to their bodies and souls.  I don’t mean that in a judgmental way, just more like, well, I don’t really know how to “evangelize” NFP (and honestly I wish it had a better name! God laughs at our “plans,” doesn’t He?) as a single person—do I really have the authority?--even though sometimes I want to shout from the rooftops how great it is and how many people have had this great information completely hidden from them or just brushed aside.

What has been your greatest benefit?

I think I would have to say that there are actually two really great benefits that I have gotten from doing all this.  The first is that I really got to understand myself and how much a role my cycle plays in my life, how it affects me.  The second is that my educator noticed something unusual in my charts and referred me to a smart, caring, pro-life, Catholic gynecologist.  (No more raised eyebrow/cynical remarks about my “activity” or lack thereof.)  I’m being treated for a hormone deficiency and it has given me hope that I don’t always have to feel miserable with PMS, and maybe, just maybe, I still have hope of becoming a mom in the near future.  (Still praying and working to meet the man God has picked out for me.)

Come back tomorrow for Wonderfully Made - Alejandra's Story.

Check out the previous posts in this series:

Finding FEMM - Brie's Story

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

It's NFP Awareness Week! This year I am sharing stories from women who learned NFP methods while single. Single women often get left out of discussions of Natural Family Planning, but there are great benefits to be reaped for them too. It's time to hear some of their stories!

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I'm Brie Jastrebski. I grew up in Chicago, IL in a loving Catholic family. Formed by experiences in my faith, community and education, I felt the desire to serve others both individually and also on a macro level. After college I spent time in service with FOCUS then began working in NYC at a NGO devoted to the dignity of the human person. It was there that I discovered FEMM – a women’s health program that I’ve dedicated the last 6 years of my life to.

2. How did you hear about NFP?

Growing up in a faithful Catholic family, it seems I was always familiar with NFP. However, my understanding was that this wasn’t something I needed to really understand or be attentive to until I was approaching marriage. This perspective changed through my journey to and discovery of FEMM.

3. How did you pick a method?

As a woman surrounded by numerous girlfriends, I’ve long been acutely aware of the myriads of health and emotional difficulties that women encounter – all related to their cycles and reproductive health. So many of my friends were/are prescribed hormonal contraception by their doctors, to deal with symptoms like irregular cycles, heavy bleeding, pain, acne, mood swings, etc. Not one of these women wanted to be putting these hormones in their bodies, but they weren’t offered any other choices.

I was convicted that women deserved more than the medical options that were available to us. Providentially, I discovered a small group of women and physicians who were looking to provide women & girls with education and health care that respected their inherent dignity. I joined them to help develop and launch FEMM, a women’s health program that offers much deserved education and authentic, whole-woman health care options.

Developing FEMM, we were able to ask ourselves:
1. What do women really need to know about their bodies?
2. How can we help them achieve optimal health and their fertility goals?

What I love about FEMM is that it gives a comprehensive look at the science behind what is going on in our bodies, both physiology and hormones. I learned what is normal and healthy for a woman’s cycles & symptoms, and what patterns or symptoms could be signs of a hormonal imbalance or ovulatory dysfunction and cause future health problems and fertility complications. FEMM is also at the forefront of medical research on women’s reproductive endocrinology and trains doctors in the most advanced medical management protocols – so that women now have access to real treatment options. I also love that FEMM has a charting app that makes tracking your cycle so simple – the app gives feedback about your hormones and health, based on the data that you input.

4. What has been your greatest challenge?

 At the beginning, a big challenge was simply motivation to chart every day. When your reasons for charting are better care of yourself and understanding your body, it can be a temptation to just let it go. However, understanding how charting could help me to recognize signs of hormonal dysfunction, give me confidence in my health and manage my future fertility was inspiration enough to plug away at it. Once I was familiar with my body and my biomarkers and had made a habit of charting, it became no longer a chore but just another part of my day.

5. What has been your favorite benefit? 

Using FEMM as a single woman has really empowered me to be more confident in my health and my fertility. I understand what my hormones are doing each month. I can practice more self-care at times when I know I usually experience certain symptoms. It has changed the way I understand my body and how my lifestyle impacts it –I can see my biomarkers/cycles change depending on whether I’m exercising, eating well, stressed etc. It is a huge blessing not to wonder if what I am experiencing is normal and healthy and also to know that I have the best medical resources available to me if something does appear to indicate a deeper problem.

FEMM taught me that all women & girls (not just those who are married or engaged) need this knowledge about their bodies – it’s science and it’s our life! This type of body literacy is tremendously empowering & necessary. I love that I can now help provide these resources other women.

Learn more about FEMM on their website, download the app, or check out this video!

Come back tomorrow for Know Thyself - Kate's Story.

Check out the previous posts in this series:

Embracing the Beautiful Body - Claire's Story

NFP For Every Body - Susie's Story

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